Chief Douglas Brent of the South Burlington Fire Department (SBFD) was recently recognized by the board of directors of the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) for achieving 40 consecutive years of national EMS (emergency medical services) certification. This distinction is an honor held by very few professionals.
“It’s always nice to be recognized,” said Chief Brent, “However, its these milestone memories that hit home because it never seems like it’s been that long. When you look back and think of the hundreds and hundreds of people I personally took care of and helped, and add to it the thousands more that my staff has treated and helped over the many years, it comes full circle and you remember why you got into this line of work, to help people.”
South Burlington City Manager Kevin Dorn said, “On behalf of all of the residents of South Burlington, I want to congratulate Chief Doug Brent on being recognized by his professional colleagues. Doug is the consummate professional and he is recognized not only locally and within our region, but across the state as an expert in emergency preparedness, management, and first response.”
“Forty consecutive years as a nationally registered EMT (emergency medical technician) is unique. He has earned the distinction,” said SBFD Deputy Chief Terry Francis, adding, “Chief Brent has done a lot to advance the implementation of fire service based EMS programs statewide.”
Brent is the longest serving career fire chief in Vermont. He began his distinguished vocation as a member of the Springfield Fire Department. He first became chief at the Bellows Falls Fire Department in 1986 and thereafter at the Barre City Fire Department in 1992. Ten years later, in 2002, Brent was selected to be the fire chief of the South Burlington Fire Department. He says, “I was chosen from a pool of several superb candidates and for that I feel very humbled. I was fortunate to have known all of the previous South Burlington Fire Chiefs, so I knew what a good reputation the department had and what a great city South Burlington is.”
Upon hearing about the NREMT distinction, SBFD Captain Gary Rounds, who has been with the department 47 years, said, “Chief Brent being recognized in the EMS field does not surprise me at all.” Deputy Chief Francis concurs, saying Brent is “the quiet, driving force in the SBFD paramedic program.”
Chief Brent was an instrumental part of making emergency medical services, including treatment and transport, part of the city’s fire department. Arriving in South Burlington with many years of experience operating fire based EMS/ambulance services, in 2003 he became part of a committee established by the city council to investigate operation of an ambulance service by the fire department. He recalls, “The committee met with all types of experts from other types of services - not just fire based, manners of operation, ambulance manufacturers, billing experts, and the hospital medical director.”
In January of 2004, the committee reported to the council. Their recommendations were to have the department provide ambulance service to the community, to hire six new dual role Firefighter EMT-Intermediates, buy two ambulances, hire a billing clerk, and to put an addition on Station 1. Brent remembers, “It was accepted unanimously by the city council and a decision was made to put it up for a vote of the taxpayers on voting day.” Two ballot items were voted on; to have the fire department begin operating the ambulance and to put the addition on the building, which was a bond vote. Noting taxpayers overwhelming support for both efforts, Chief Brent says, “We began getting all of the pieces in place to begin operation on August 1, 2004.”
SBFD’s level of emergency medical services has continued to evolve over the years. So much so, that in May 2016, the department earned the Ambulance Service of the Year Award from the Vermont Department of Health EMS Division at a ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of Vermont EMS. The award ceremony was held at the State House in Montpelier. Dr. Henry Chen, then commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, said, “When South Burlington residents call 911, they know they will be cared for by trusted friends.”
Captain Rounds, who was a member of the hiring committee when Chief Brent was hired, also sat on the ambulance committee with the new chief back before inception of the city’s emergency medical services. He describes Chief Brent as leading the charge for South Burlington to have their own ambulance service. In noting the 2016 Ambulance Service of the Year Award, Rounds says the award was “in honor of excellence in providing emergency medical services to the citizens of Vermont,” adding, “Doug would have it no other way. I could go on and on about his role in EMS.”
Although you will never hear it from Chief Brent, he is thought of as a forerunner in helping to establish the state’s emergency medicine services. Deputy Chief Francis is quick to say Chief Brent is someone who makes things happen, adding, “He works behind the scenes, working diligently, without fanfare.”
When part of the fire department in Barre City, Chief Brent helped create the first paramedic ambulance service to become licensed in Central Vermont. In 2010, he wrote a federal FEMA FireAct Regional (South Burlington, Essex Rescue and Colchester Rescue) grant to pay for training and equipping all three services to become paramedic level squads. The grant was successful and $647,000 was received, as well as 15 EMT intermediates (seven from South Burlington, four each from Essex and Colchester) trained to become paramedics.
But these achievements are not what Chief Brent counts at the end of the day. “Helping people is primary,” he says, in addition to making sure the city’s firefighter and EMS employees have “every tool they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability to help people.” The chief underscores his overall sentiment about his team, “We really have good people, great people.”
Chief Brent stresses the importance of getting it right. “In major league baseball, if you bat a 400 average your whole career, it is assured you will be in the hall of fame. That’s four out of 10 times at bat you get a hit. We would not be a very good fire department if we only put out four of every 10 fires we go to or saved four out of 10 patients we transport.”
A natural leader, whose actions are in alignment with his beliefs, Chief Brent remarks that one of the most important qualities to have in his role is the ability to listen. A member of the community himself, he says, “I live here, I talk to citizens all the time. I see them at the grocery store, when I’m mowing my lawn.” Brent expresses the value of knowing his community and what they want for service and being able to tell them what they need based on his professional knowledge, background, and experience.
Dorn states that residents and visitors can take comfort in the fact that the city’s response to emergency situations is in good hands with Chief Brent. He adds, “Congratulations Chief, on this recognition of your commitment to your profession.”
SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper